Sunday, 23 April 2017

Something fresh!

By: Mrs Robot

We're still around and still cooking - but as it's been three months since I last posted anything, I thought I'd better put something up. Anything.

It's been culinary sadtimes in the House of Robots, as our beloved butcher has closed its Trowbridge branch. We always thought it was a bit odd that a butcher as prestigious as Walter Rose had their second store in Trow, and over the past decade business in the town has slowed to the point where they're focussing on the restaurant trade. They're keeping their shop in Devizes, though, so we're taking a weekly drive over there now.

Leaving aside my sadness about what this means for my town - every time an essential shop closes, all the others lose a little more business - it is nice going to the Devizes branch, as business there is brisker so they have much more stock in the shop; among the things we got this week were smoked mutton and smoked chicken. There's also a fish counter at the Devizes branch (it had to be preordered in Trowbridge, which we were never organised enough to do) and it's been enjoyable having that as an option.

These prawns were absolute monsters, and we wanted to do them justice, so Mr Robot did them following Meera Sodha's tamarind and honey prawn recipe from her book Made In India. Served on vegetable cous cous with a cucumber and yoghurt raita, they were refreshing and delicious. We'll definitely be having them again!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

A Mumbai feast

Dhansak and cachumbarIt's a while after new year, but I thought I'd write about our New Year's Day meal anyway. (Didn't want to do another post too soon after Mr Robot's last one, you might have run away in shock at two in a week.)

Mr Robot gave me a couple of cookbooks for Christmas: Mr Todiwala's Bombay, by Cyrus Todiwala, and Fortnum and Mason: The Cook Book. I don't know if I'd have picked up the Todiwala book myself, but it's really good. My go-to Indian recipe books tend to be by Anjum Anand and Meera Sodha. Meera Sodha is a particular favourite because her food has personality; you can really see how her family history and the ingredients around her in Britain have impacted on her cooking. Mr Todiwala's Bombay also has personality in spades. There's a real sense of place and of the mix of cultures that make up Mumbai as he shares the food that he loves: the street food that everyone eats, restaurant food, and the sort of thing families eat at home. I wanted to go to Mumbai anyhow as I love art deco and it's got some of the finest art deco buildings in the world, but now I want to go there for the food too!

A dish of cachumbar
I decided to make a proper dhansak (or dhaansaak as it's spelled in the book), as made by the Parsee community that Cyrus Todiwalla is part of.

Dhansaks are a curryhouse staple here in the UK, but this was very different from the oily stuff they serve up. You start by making the spicy lamb, which is then added to a pot of dal. I found the dal particularly unusual compared to ones I've made in the past as it contains fresh dill and plenty of sugar – I guess that shows the Persian roots of the Parsee people. The dal is supposed to be pureed smooth, and I did that this time but in future I might leave some of the lentils intact for a bit more texture and visual interest. There's a low ratio of lamb-to-dal. I was really worried about how all the flavours would turn out, as the mix was so unfamiliar to me, but it still tasted like 'a curry' to me, just with different herbal notes to what I'd usually expect. And that's one of the reasons I like making Indian food at home - bought ones always seem to lack the fresh flavour of the herbs.

A bowl of brown onion pulao with sheekh kebab balls on top
A gorgeous brown caramelised onion pulao, seekh kebab balls (raising the amount of meat in the meal to a level carnivores will be happy with), and cachumbar make delicious accompaniments. I'd happily make all three of those to accompany other things. Every Indian chef I own a cookbook by has a recipe for cachumbar; Todiwalla's is heavier on the onion than the others that I've seen but it works really well with the sweet, lentil-heavy dhansak. And usually when a recipe 'serves four to six' there's really enough for two greedy robots plus a little leftover. Not here! Even by our standards this recipe easily serves six. I've put two meals' worth of dhansak, pulao and kebab balls in the freezer.

The Fortnum cookbook is an oddity. I must confess, while I know Tom Parker-Bowles is a food writer, I've never read any of his food writing, I only know him as 'that bloke whose mum is the future Princess Consort.' Mr Robot got it for me because I love the funny old shop, and the history of things, and this book contains little bits of Fort Noms' history. It's also stuffed with illustrations from the company catalogues of the 1930s and 1950s. I'm not sure how I feel about a lot of the recipes in the book as they're really very simple and I have similar elsewhere, though in their simplicity they do mean you need to use the very finest ingredients – replace butter with marge and it'll be all too obvious.
Raspberry trifle

I made the raspberry trifle. I did vary things slightly, using cream rather than milk for the custard, and making a fresh raspberry compote rather than using jam. You're supposed to layer it jam, sponge with chambord, raspberries, custard, whipped cream, sponge with chambord, raspberries, custard, whipped cream, but I have a wide dish rather than a tall one so the layers came out a bit scanty. I left out the middle layer of cream and had a mere drizzle for the second layer of custard, so I think if I made it again I'd use far fewer sponges and only one layer of each ingredient. Still, it was jolly nice. Not over-fussy, just a tasty, creamy, fruity treat.

So, that was our New Year's Day meal. I hope yours was as good, and wish you all the best for the rest of 2017.